Does an iPad Equal a Book?

Photo courtesy of ralphbod (flickr.com)

A while ago, I was visiting a certain coffee shop when I noticed it was giving out free codes for an iPad app. Now, I usually don’t take to such stunts, but this iPad app was a book, and I found myself reaching for the code card.

The iPad app was a picture book called “The Monster at the End of This Book…Starring Grover!” in which Grover from Sesame Street narrates and acts out the story to “you,” the reader. There were also interactive qualities. I showed this book to a three year old and a five year old, and they both ate it up. Over and over again. Which reminded me: two professors from my Children’s Literature program at Hollins University also came out with iPad app books recently. Ruth Sanderson came out with Cinderella. Ashley Wolff came out Cat Saw, which was originally published in 1985 as a picture book called Only the Cat Saw, and has been out of print for a while.

Are iPad app books becoming a new trend in publishing? Or better yet, are apps paving the way for an entirely new way of storytelling? It’s not only happening in the picture books market. Writers, especially children’s book authors, are undoubtedly playing with the medium, and they’re coming up with all sorts of interesting multimedia techniques.

Back when I first got a whiff of iPad app books, this makeover of “Alice in Wonderland” received some buzz.  Since then, the app book has developed.  The trailer for “Dark Prophecy” is an app book with traditional narration along with movie segments that bridge scenes. Kind of what Brian Selznick would have done if he had a video camera instead of a drawing board. Read about it here.

Patrick Carman, author of the bestselling YA series “The Land of Elyon” and “Atherton,” has written his latest novel, “Dark Eden,” entirely for the iPad app. For him, using transmedia and multimedia is an attempt to reach today’s very wired teens. Read an interview with him here.

And then, there is “Strange Rain.”  A little tangential of an app but still a way to tell a story.  A mood piece, you could say. This app shows falling rain as if you were looking up at the sky. “Story” is an option. The designer describes the character as “a man in the midst of a family crisis who has wandered into the rain to collect his thoughts. His world, too, has gone from familiar to strange, even as his beliefs are following the opposite course. Your interaction helps determine when and how he decides to come in from the rain.” Reminiscent of the good ol’ choose your own adventure?  Here’s a trailer.

From the gamut of app book experiments out there, I get the sense that writers don’t entirely know which way to optimize what the app media has to offer. What is the Digi-Novel? How far can a “book” stretch into other mediums and still remain a book? Is the line even important?

What I do know is, app books excite me. Maybe not what’s out yet, but the medium opens up possibilities for innovation and invites us to use multimedia technology to create a new form of art. Whatever app books may bring to the storytelling world, they have gotten our juices flowing. A new frontier. A new challenge. What a lark!

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  1. Kenton says:

    I can verify that the three year old and the five year old loved “The Monster at the End of This Book”. It’s a great example of digital literature and I would like to see more like it.

    I’m not sure what such an interactive approach could add to a more traditional narrative, though. I think that such things are too distracting to the the central reading experience, but would provide more depth and content for hooked readers who just want more more more from an author/story.

    The most practical improvements to a traditional narrative might be ones that aren’t intertwined with the central story, but instead support that story through optional in depth supporting applications. These could include world maps, lineage trees, voiced content, animated shorts, additional background information, etc….

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